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Appeal to Extremes

Description: Erroneously attempting to make a reasonable argument into an absurd one, by taking the argument to the extremes. Note that this is not a valid reductio ad absurdum.

Logical Form:

If X is true, then Y must also be true (where Y is the extreme of X).

Example #1:

There is no way those Girl Scouts could have sold all those cases of cookies in one hour.  If they did, they would have to make $500 in one hour, which, based on an 8 hour day is over a million dollars a year.  That is more than most lawyers, doctors, and successful business people make!

Explanation: The Girl Scouts worked just for one hour -- not 40 per week for a year.  Suggesting the extreme leads to an absurd conclusion; that Girl Scouts are among the highest paid people in the world.   Not to mention, there is a whole troop of them doing the work, not just one girl.

Example #2:

Don’t forget God’s commandment, “thou shall not kill”.  By using mouthwash, you are killing 99.9% of the germs that cause bad breath.  Prepare for Hell.

Explanation: It is unlikely that God had mouthwash on his mind when issuing that commandment, but if he did, we’re all screwed (at least those of us with fresh breath).

Exception: This fallacy is a misuse of one of the greatest techniques in argumentation, reductio ad absurdum, or reducing the argument to the absurd.  The difference is where the absurdity actually is in the argument or in the reasoning of the one trying to show the argument is absurd.

Here is an example of an argument that is proven false by reducing to the absurd, legitimately.

Big Tony: The more you exercise, the stronger you will get!

Nerdy Ned: Actually, if you just kept exercising and never stopped, you would eventually drop dead.  There is a limit to how much exercise you should get.

Tip: People very often say stupid things.  Sometimes it is easy to reduce their arguments to absurdity, but remember, in most cases, your goal should be diplomacy, not making the other person look foolish.  Especially when dealing with your spouse—unless you really like sleeping on the couch.

References:

This a logical fallacy frequently used on the Internet. No academic sources could be found.



Registered User Comments

Krista Neckles
Monday, May 28, 2018 - 03:24:31 PM
Hello Sir,

What is the difference between committng the "appeal to extremes" fallacy and committing the " strawman fallacy"?

Thank you in advance.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, May 28, 2018 - 06:58:45 PM
Unlike the strawman, the appeal to extremes does not imply that the arguer is making the argument; the argument is changed by the person committing the fallacy without deception. "I understand your argument which is X (X is exactly the argument being made), but if that is true, then Y must also be true (which is absurd)!" The problem is, it is not true that Y is a necessary conclusion from X.

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Krista Neckles
Tuesday, May 29, 2018 - 09:53:37 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Thank you.

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John
Saturday, March 24, 2018 - 10:48:41 AM
In the case of the “thou shall not kill”, isn’t using the argument “god unlikely had mouthwash on his mind” ad hoc, an thus fallacious?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Saturday, March 24, 2018 - 11:00:55 AM
It's not a serious argument. If it were, the bigger problem would be that I would be begging the question that God exists and the commandments came from God.

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John
Saturday, March 24, 2018 - 11:10:17 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: tough I agree with you don’t you agree whether it is a serious argument or not is entirely subjective and thus not self evident?

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John
Saturday, March 24, 2018 - 11:18:51 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: I mean, isn’t that and appeal to self evident true, or I am doing ad infinitum? (I’m not trying to be an smart in case it looks like that)

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Saturday, March 24, 2018 - 11:20:06 AM
@John: Yes. If your point is I should explain all my jokes... well, ask any humorist how that works out ;) Those who don't get the humor might simply accuse me a of a fallacy. I am okay with that.

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John
Saturday, March 24, 2018 - 11:22:21 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: I didn’t know it was a joke, sorry about that.. see that’s the problem of internet communication haha

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Jacob
Monday, March 19, 2018 - 07:45:48 AM
This is an argument I have encountered on the internet in the wake of the metoo movement.

"If a woman's account of being raped is put under scrutiny then women will not feel safe in coming forward about legitimate cases of rape."

Is this an example of the appeal to extremes fallacy? The above statement suggests that a woman's account of being raped should never be questioned. All serious accusations, not just rape, need to be questioned to make sure innocent people are not punished. Assuming that our legal system is reasonably effective at determining the difference between legitimate and false accounts of rape then it is acceptable and necessary to question a woman's account of being raped because this is how we find out if the guy did it or not. The statement assumes an extreme outcome which would not happen, that legitimate victims will not come to the authorities if they know that their accounts will be tested for veracity.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, March 19, 2018 - 09:57:40 AM
This would be an example. Without the alarmist spin, reality is

"If a woman's account of being raped is put under scrutiny then some women will feel less safe in coming forward about legitimate cases of rape."

We need to balance the pros and cons. The cons being that some women will be less likely to come forward when raped and the pros being innocent people not being found guilty or their reputations destroyed.

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